They’d been standing in line outside the Great Hall for what felt like hours, although somebody wearing a watch told Bryony it had been less than thirty minutes. She was tempted to start scratching at the floor to see if she could identify what they’d treated it with — it looked soft, but it was handling her high heels without marking. However even Bryony — perhaps especially Bryony — was not willing to be quite so undignified on her first day at the Academy, before she’d even been formally inducted. She sighed.
Melinda seemed to take this as a sign to try to start a conversation. “So, do you guys reckon they’re bringing in a sound amplification system, or are we just going to be projecting really hard once we finally get in there?”
“Probably neither,” Buhle said seriously. “That hall has darn fine acoustics, from what I heard this morning.”
Quintessa nodded. Ivor sighed melodramatically. “I was so hoping for a megaphone to complement my top hat.” Bryony wasn’t the only one to snicker in response.
“I suppose you could think of the entire hall as your megaphone.” Quintessa stared up at the ceiling, which was a long way up even from her lofty height. “It’s the same principle after all.”
“But,” Ivor looked doubtful, “do you think the colours will go together?”
Bryony groaned and steered the conversation away from Ivor’s dress sense. “I never really understood how that works,” she said to Quintessa. “Want to enlighten me, since we’re waiting anyway?”
“Oh, uh,” Quintessa looked embarrassed, but carried on, “well, you know sound is a wave, right? Well, not really a wave, more like a pulse. When you make a sound, we hear it because it pushes the air out from around you, and that pushed together air hits your ear differently, right?”
“Yeah, okay.” Bryony assumed there was a way of filling in all the steps Quintessa had glossed over, but she wasn’t going to say anything that might make the girl any shyer.
“So basically, when the wave — or the pushed together air, anyway — hits a wall of some kind, it gets reflected. Or you can think of it as the moving air bouncing off, if you like. That makes more sense to me.” She paused. “Yeah, think of it as the air molecules bouncing off the wall, whether it’s the megaphone material or the wall of the hall. Then obviously you can set the walls up so that you focus the sound. You know, so that the different reflections enhance each other, rather than all sort of cancelling out randomly, which is what usually happens.”
“Hang on,” Melinda interrupted, “I’m with you so far, but remind me what there is to cancel out?”
“Well, when you push the air together in one place, it has to spread out somewhere else to make up for it, right? Which is why sound can be kind of like a wave, with bunched up and spread out parts,” Quintessa said, still gazing at the ceiling.
“Oh, right, yeah that makes sense. Thanks!” Melinda grinned broadly, but Quintessa didn’t seem to notice.
“So the idea is to get the bunched up parts of the reflection from all the walls to arrive at the same time?” Bryony asked.
“Yeah, because if the bunched up parts and the spread out parts arrive together, it all sort of smooshes out, right? Which is why it’s normally hard to hear things from far away when there’s been lots of reflecting.”
“There’s some awesomely cool design that goes into constructing rooms with proper acoustics,” Buhle added. “It’s really important for stuff like music concerts, but the maths is a bit beyond me at the moment.”
“Well, that we should be able to fix.” Mathematician Dustborn stepped out of the Great Hall into the corridor where they were waiting. “Always good to see students eager to learn. Now, the procession is about to begin, so make sure you’re ready to enter when Ricardo calls you. No last minute questions?” He looked along the line. “Cold feet, anyone?”
Somebody giggled, but the mood had turned serious.
“Very good. I’ll see you again in a few minutes.” Dustborn whipped off down the corridor to join the procession of Mathematicians.
He had barely disappeared around the corner when the processional music began, the sound from the Great Hall’s pipe organ swelling out, audible even in the corridor. Buhle gesticulated wildly at the back of the line, which Bryony, at the front, assumed was some kind of comment on the acoustics of the hall. She thumbs upped and turned her attention back to the door. If a surname starting with A meant she was going to lead the hundred and thirty seventh class into their induction, she would do it with flare and look like she’d been chosen for the job.
When the music stopped, she heard a woman speaking in the hall, although the words were too muffled to make out. After a while she seemed to be replaced by a man, who Bryony thought might be Mathematician Dustborn. She was still wondering when the door swung open and Ricardo appeared to beckon them in. Fixing her best smile on her face, Bryony stepped forward, looking, she hoped, more confident than she felt.
Things went surprisingly quickly from there. They lined up in front of the wide wooden podium and the scarlet-gowned mathematicians, as they’d practised in the morning and repeated after Dustborn
“I accept a position as a student within the Mechatropolis Academy for Mathematical Sciences and I promise that, through my conduct, I will uphold the honour of the Academy. I will seek knowledge and value truth above all in my research. I will uphold the duty of the Academy to the people of Mechatropolis and to all humanity.”
Upholding the honour of the Academy was rather vague, Bryony thought as the academic gowns were brought forward by a man in Mathematician’s red, but she supposed the Academy could afford to be vague. Nobody was refusing to sign up because it wasn’t exactly clear at what point behaviour would no longer be tolerated. And since it wasn’t clear, people would probably get off with a warning if they did push the boundaries a little. Not that she was intending to push boundaries. Much.
“Bryony Adams.” She stepped forward and Dustborn draped the gown over her shoulders. She struggled for a moment getting her arms through the sleeves. “I induct you into the Academy of Mathematical Sciences. Welcome!”
She grinned like an idiot all the way back to her seat and hardly heard Dustborn inducting the others as the excitement swam about her head. She’d done it! It had actually happened — she was a fully official student at the Academy with a plethora of exciting new discoveries ahead of her. She sighed and relaxed into her chair as Dustborn called, “Quintessa Modicena, I induct you into the Academy of Mathematical Sciences. Welcome!” She joined in the cheers of the crowd then and again for “Buhle Nkosi, I induct you into the Academy of Mathematical Sciences. Welcome!”
When they were all seated, Dustborn gave a short speech aimed mostly, she thought, at the parents in the audience. Then he handed the podium to the Academy’s Chancellor, Naledi Briggs, a short, dark woman with hair dyed the scarlet colour of her mathematician’s gown.
“It seems appropriate to welcome you again, now that our newest members have joined us. So once again, to my fellow mathematicians, mayor and council, students, parents and members of the public: welcome! An especially warm welcome to our newest students and my best wishes to you all.” She gestured to indicate the Academy building. Dropping her voice to a conspiratorial stage whisper, she added, “I got so lost in this building, I was late for every lecture for the first month of my career. I seem to have managed despite that, so take hope!”
Oddly enough, Bryony did find it comforting that even this startling, successful woman had found the Academy overwhelming once. You could learn to handle anything with enough effort, she supposed.
“I would also like to make a special point of welcoming Mathematician von Rejk back to our teaching staff.” Mathematician Briggs turned back towards the rest of the mathematicians. A heavyset man rose and nodded to acknowledge her. “Mathematician von Rejk has been working with our colleagues at the spaceport for the last several years, although many of our senior students will remember him. His teaching and research here will cover several areas of mechatronics. Please welcome him back to the Academy.”
Bryony clapped politely, but behind her she could hear a couple of students whooping enthusiastically. Apparently Mathematician von Rejk had been popular.
“Our speaker this afternoon needs no introduction and so, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to welcome to the podium Keegan Govender, the mayor of Mechatropolis.”
The mayor didn’t get any whoops, but then mayors were less interesting than mathematicians. At least, one would expect the kind of people who went to an Academy induction to think so. The mayor was a slender, balding man dressed in a well cut suit. Bryony didn’t think he had Ricardo’s style, although he spoke sensibly about the importance of the work done at the Academy. She might even have listened properly if she hadn’t been too busy wondering if Mathematician von Rejk would be teaching her, when they would get their timetables and what would happen once the ceremony was over.